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Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books Hardcover – March 25, 2003


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1st edition (March 25, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375504907
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375504907
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 5.7 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (500 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #403,921 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

An inspired blend of memoir and literary criticism, Reading Lolita in Tehran is a moving testament to the power of art and its ability to change and improve people's lives. In 1995, after resigning from her job as a professor at a university in Tehran due to repressive policies, Azar Nafisi invited seven of her best female students to attend a weekly study of great Western literature in her home. Since the books they read were officially banned by the government, the women were forced to meet in secret, often sharing photocopied pages of the illegal novels. For two years they met to talk, share, and "shed their mandatory veils and robes and burst into color." Though most of the women were shy and intimidated at first, they soon became emboldened by the forum and used the meetings as a springboard for debating the social, cultural, and political realities of living under strict Islamic rule. They discussed their harassment at the hands of "morality guards," the daily indignities of living under the Ayatollah Khomeini's regime, the effects of the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, love, marriage, and life in general, giving readers a rare inside look at revolutionary Iran. The books were always the primary focus, however, and they became "essential to our lives: they were not a luxury but a necessity," she writes.

Threaded into the memoir are trenchant discussions of the work of Vladimir Nabokov, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Jane Austen, and other authors who provided the women with examples of those who successfully asserted their autonomy despite great odds. The great works encouraged them to strike out against authoritarianism and repression in their own ways, both large and small: "There, in that living room, we rediscovered that we were also living, breathing human beings; and no matter how repressive the state became, no matter how intimidated and frightened we were, like Lolita we tried to escape and to create our own little pockets of freedom," she writes. In short, the art helped them to survive. --Shawn Carkonen

From Publishers Weekly

This book transcends categorization as memoir, literary criticism or social history, though it is superb as all three. Literature professor Nafisi returned to her native Iran after a long education abroad, remained there for some 18 years, and left in 1997 for the United States, where she now teaches at Johns Hopkins. Woven through her story are the books she has taught along the way, among them works by Nabokov, Fitzgerald, James and Austen. She casts each author in a new light, showing, for instance, how to interpret The Great Gatsby against the turbulence of the Iranian revolution and how her students see Daisy Miller as Iraqi bombs fall on Tehran Daisy is evil and deserves to die, one student blurts out. Lolita becomes a brilliant metaphor for life in the Islamic republic. The desperate truth of Lolita's story is... the confiscation of one individual's life by another, Nafisi writes. The parallel to women's lives is clear: we had become the figment of someone else's dreams. A stern ayatollah, a self-proclaimed philosopher-king, had come to rule our land.... And he now wanted to re-create us. Nafisi's Iran, with its omnipresent slogans, morality squads and one central character struggling to stay sane, recalls literary totalitarian worlds from George Orwell's 1984 to Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. Nafisi has produced an original work on the relationship between life and literature.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

More About the Author

Azar Nafisi is a professor at John Hopkins University. She has written for the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal among others, and is the author of Anti-Terra: A Critical Study of Vladimir Nabokov's Novels. She lives in Washington D.C. with her husband and two children.

Customer Reviews

"Reading Lolita in Tehran" by Azar Nafisi, (author & teacher) is an interesting book.
Bruce E. McLeod Jr.
I could not keep the characters straight, and I felt the book jumped around in time so much that I frequently gave up trying to figure out the temporal context.
mtspace
The book club members take fiction, and see things that Western readers likely wouldn't, to apply it to their own lives, and gain hope from it.
"ltrent@amgen.com"

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

574 of 612 people found the following review helpful By Ronald Scheer on July 21, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Reading the reviews and the dust jacket, you can get the idea that this is a book about a book club. For this reader, it is more directly about the impact of the Islamic revolution on the lives of educated women in Iran. There women are required at the risk of their lives to wear the "veil," which symbolizes the surrender of their independence to a government that uses fear and intimidation to control them and, in the words of the author, make them "irrelevant."
The author, now living in the US, tells of almost two decades in Iran, as a teacher of English and American literature. She tells of the great hopes for reform after the fall of the Shah and the return from exile of the Ayatollah Khomeini, and with her we watch in horror as the revolution takes Iran by force instead into its medieval past. There are arrests, murders, and executions and those who can, flee to the West. The transformation of Iran is charted by the repressive attempts to make women invisible, by covering them in public from head to toe. It becomes a world in which wearing fingernail polish, even under gloves, is a punishable offense. And punishment, as we learn, is typically brutal.
The author escapes from this violence into the imaginative world of Western novels (from Nabokov to Dashiell Hammet) where she finds democratic ideals expressed in fiction's ability to help us empathize with other people. For her, it is the heart that has gone out of the gun-wielding moral police that want to sweep away all but complete submission to their fundamentalist form of Islam. And while she is a teacher, she must deal with classes filled with students who have been polarized by the political forces around them. All, curiously, are in single agreement that the West is corrupt and absolutely evil.
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133 of 145 people found the following review helpful By Patricia A. Powell on July 5, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Azar Nafisi has written a brilliant, moving, and frightening book. As a professor of English literature at Tehran University, she provides a unique perspective on the Iranian revolution that changed the world.
She considers herself an intellectual. She marched against the west and the USA support of the Shah of Iran. She tells of the joy that she and her colleagues felt at his fall. She tells of the changes in everyday life for intellectuals and for women as the Islamists took over the country. She left her job at the university (a job that she loved) because she refused to wear the veil. She tells of the effects of the eight year long Iraq/Iran war on the women of Tehran, the tyranny of the religious leaders who issue their decrees as though they came directly from God.
Nafisi's story is one of change, tyranny, fascism, and the failure in the 20th century to defend women when their identity and their humanity are stolen in the name of religion. It is also the story of personal courage, intelligence, commitment, and love.
Nafisi lead a book discussion group for a select group of women in her home in Tehran before leaving Iran. The forbidden fruit that they read was Lolita, Pride and Prejudice, Daisy Miller, and the Great Gatsby! They risked so much to do this; they risked imprisonment, beatings, rape, and perhaps execution.
She tells her story and some of the stories of her students through these group discussions. She has changed the name of the women that are still alive to protect them. She tells one of her student's stories. While in prison she knew of guards who repeatedly raped a young beautiful girl. They justified this punishment because their heinous acts would deny her access to heaven.
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77 of 83 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 25, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I read this book for a variety of reasons and I was rewarded on every level. It gave me insight into the world of Islamic Fundamentalism through the lives of some of the women who are forced to live according to its tenets; it increased my understanding of an important historical movement; it gave me some wonderful and nuanced insights into some favorite works of literature; and I was able to share the author's growth through very tumultuous times. This memoir is beautifully and suspensefully written--one really comes to care deeply about these brave women. Questions of courage and indentity are at the core of this book--how does one relate to a repressive regime without effacing oneself? This book is a journey that illuminates some of the conflicts at the core of our current age. I encourage you to read it!
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32 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Andi Miller on January 10, 2004
Format: Paperback
I thought this was a really good quality book. I found many parts touching, and I enjoyed the insight into the lives of the students with whom Nafisi met on a weekly basis to discuss controversial literature. Nafisi is a very interesting person and an impeccable writer. My only criticism (and it's more a matter of personal taste than anything)....I got very bogged down in the middle. I wanted to learn more about Nafisi's students. I assumed that they would be the main focus of the book from reading the blurb on the cover. The first and last sections focused mostly on the women's gatherings, but the middle sections focused mostly on the war situation in Iran. Not that that particular part wasn't interesting (in fact it was absolutely necessary to illustrate the state of the Islamic Republic), but I just found myself more captivated by the struggles and opinions of the women. I greatly enjoyed reading the insight into some of my favorite novels including The Great Gatsby and Pride and Prejudice. I also added plenty of works to my growing wishlist based on the commentary between Nafisi and her students.
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